University of Cambridge, Department of Medical Genetics, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, Wellcome/MRC Building, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 0XY, UK; UK Dementia Research Institute, Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Hills Road, Cambridge, UK. Electronic address: [Email]
Most of the neurodegenerative diseases that afflict humans manifest with the intraneuronal accumulation of toxic proteins that are aggregate-prone. Extensive data in cell and neuronal models support the concept that such proteins, like mutant huntingtin or alpha-synuclein, are substrates for macroautophagy (hereafter autophagy). Furthermore, autophagy-inducing compounds lower the levels of such proteins and ameliorate their toxicity in diverse animal models of neurodegenerative diseases. However, most of these compounds also have autophagy-independent effects and it is important to understand if similar benefits are seen with genetic strategies that upregulate autophagy, as this strengthens the validity of this strategy in such diseases. Here we review studies in vertebrate models using genetic manipulations of core autophagy genes and describe how these improve pathology and neurodegeneration, supporting the validity of autophagy upregulation as a target for certain neurodegenerative diseases.